Leptin is an adipokine that regulates body weight and appetite. It is also an inflammatory cytokine that influences immune reactivity and autoimmunity. Leptin levels are increased in obesity and are higher in women than in men. We aimed to determine whether leptin levels, independent of sex and body mass index (BMI), are associated with thyroid autoimmunity.
This study uses data from The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to test the association of leptin and thyroid autoimmunity, independent of BMI.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone, thyroxine, antithyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies and leptin levels were measured in 2902 men and 3280 women within the NHANES III population. BMI was calculated from height and weight.
Women had significantly higher leptin levels and anti-TPO antibody titres than men. Correlation analyses demonstrated that leptin levels were associated with anti-TPO antibody levels in the total population, but when men and women were analysed separately, this association was lost. We then stratified men and women into obese (BMI > 30) or nonobese (BMI ≤ 30) subgroups and determined the association between leptin levels and anti-TPO antibody titres for each subgroup. Using regression analysis, we found that increased leptin levels correlated with thyroid autoantibodies in nonobese males, but not in obese males or in females.
Leptin levels correlated with thyroid autoantibody titres in nonobese males. This association was not found in females. Sex and body habitus should therefore be considered in studying the role of leptin in other autoimmune conditions.